Just a couple of decades ago, the term ‘carbon footprint’ would have meant almost nothing to us, but due to a rapid change and improvement in people’s consumption choices and overall lifestyles, the emission problems and the number of people being aware of it have changed significantly.
Although nowadays, each person is aware that every single one of us is contributing to the pollution and damage of our planet Earth, not many know just to what degree.
Perhaps, these carbon footprint statistics will make it much more apparent and convince all the readers to think about behaving a bit more conscientiously by changing their lifestyles.
If you want to find out more, read on!
Top 10 Carbon Footprint Stats and Facts
- Carbon footprint takes up 60% of humanity’s overall ecological footprint.
- 40% of global emissions come from coal.
- 29% of greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation, in 2019.
- Opting for a vegetarian feast one day a week could save the carbon equivalent of driving 1,160 miles per year.
- In 2021, global CO2 emissions were projected to rise by 4.9%.
- Between 2007 and 2035, energy use will increase by 49%.
- Accounting for 30.64% of global emissions, China was the biggest fossil fuel CO2 emissions emitter in 2020.
- To avoid global warming, we would need to strive to get the average carbon footprint under 2 by 2050.
- If the world wants to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, it needs to cut emissions by 45%.
- Around 8% of the global carbon emissions come from tourism.
Noteworthy Carbon Footprint Facts
Carbon dioxide is the most threatening greenhouse gas that drives global climate change, and it is continuing to rise year after year.
Take a look at these facts and numbers that could make it much clearer just how much impact this problem has on the environment, as well as the quality of our lives in the future.
1. 60% of humanity’s overall ecological footprint is the carbon footprint.
(Global Footprint Network)
Ecological footprint is described as the impact of a person or community on the environment, representing a measure of the demand for natural resources concerning the earth’s ability to restore or replenish the resources consumed.
The disturbing fact is that carbon footprint is the most rapidly growing component. Since 1961, it has increased 11-fold, so the most crucial step humanity can take is to try and reduce the carbon footprint.
2. The Paris Agreement, signed in 2016, aims to keep the rise of global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius in this century.
(Global Footprint Network)
Moreover, the agreement states that, if it is possible, the rise of global temperatures should be kept to 1.5 degrees. However, despite the good intentions, this requires enormous changes, so emissions are still going up.
3. According to the Global Carbon Tracker, 40% of global emissions come from coal.
Besides coal, the global fossil fuel emissions also result from oil and natural gas, taking up 32% and 21%, respectively. The percentages reflect both the amount of each fossil fuel consumed globally and disparities in carbon dioxide intensities.
Even though coal and gas surpassed their pre-pandemic emissions level in 2021, oil emissions remained around 6% below 2019 levels.
4. Around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry.
(The World Counts)
Interestingly, animals like cattle, sheep, and goats produce a lot of methane gas, and, according to some carbon footprint stats, solely in 2016, they produced 170 million metric tons in CO2e of methane. Among them, beef is one of the biggest contributors, as one kilogram of this meat has the same amount of emissions as driving your car about 160 miles.
Furthermore, by 2050, global consumption of meat is expected to rise 75%, while global demand for livestock products, in general, could double up.
5. In 2019, 29% of greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation.
These emissions come from burning fossil fuel for our planes, trains, ships, trucks, and of course, cars. Electricity production took up second place with 25% of emissions, followed by 23% from Industry.
Commercial and Residential, Agriculture, Land Use, and Forestry were responsible for 13%, 10%, and 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, respectively.
6. In 2019, only 8.5% of the world’s energy came from clean energy sources.
Clean energy is a substitute for fossil fuels, and it can reduce the effects of global warming by bounding global greenhouse gas emissions. In comparison, 80% of energy came from the burning of fossil fuels in 2019.
Wind, tidal, hydropower, nuclear, geothermal, solar, and wave energy have the lowest carbon footprint.
7. From 1997 to 2018, the global installed capacity of wind energy increased by 75.
Wind energy boasts the lowest carbon footprint by standing at 11 and 12 grams of CO2/kWh on a Life-cycle Basis. It grew from 7.5 GW to over 564 GW during the period mentioned above. There are two main types of wind energy, offshore and onshore, the second one being considerably larger than the first, with a cost of up to 20% higher.
The second-lowest carbon footprint is nuclear energy, at 12 grams of CO2/kWh on a Life-Cycle Basis.
8. Dairy products contribute almost 19% of greenhouse gasses emitted.
(Project Solar UK)
When it comes to contributing to greenhouse gasses, cheese and yogurt closely follow the meat, while seafood and eggs, and vegetables contribute 14% and 4.9% of greenhouse gasses emitted, respectively.
Moreover, not only do businesses that produce food contribute to emissions of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide but transporting food accounts for 11% of carbon emissions, while around 1.3 billion tonnes of all food produced is either lost or wasted every year.
9. In the UK, 3.68 million tonnes of CO2 per year come from the supply and treatment of water.
(Project Solar UK)
Even though people are aware that water conservation is one of the keys to saving our planet from global warming by reducing carbon dioxide output, the efforts to maintain and purify the water we drink take up energy too.
What’s more, 4,645 liters of water per UK person is required every day, resulting in millions of tonnes of CO2 per year.
10. As per some surveys, opting for a vegetarian feast one day a week could save the carbon equivalent of driving 1,160 miles per year.
While we can all cut down on our carbon footprints by reducing our overall consumption of meat, the amount of reducing carbon footprint that is possible depends on the meats we choose to cut down on. For example, red meat is around 150% more GHG-intensive than fish or chicken.
Regarding more ways to help reduce our carbon footprint, we can start working with companies that use hydro, solar power, or wind energy, stop buying fast fashion from retailers that have factories in countries like China, India, and Bangladesh, avoid single-use of plastic, and drive less.
Global Carbon Footprint Statistics & Trends
In the following section, we are dealing with some crucial numbers concerning carbon footprint in recent years and the effect of Covid-19 on the overall stats. If you want to know how much an average American produces, keep reading.
11. From 2011 to 2019, global CO2 emissions were increasing by an average of 1.4 GtCO2 per year.
The data showed global CO2 emissions increasing by 15 billion MT during the mentioned period. However, suppose we include 2020 and 2021. In that case, the new GCP data shows slightly declining global emissions over the past decade.
Nevertheless, this should be treated with caution due to the temporary nature of Covid-related declines.
12. In 2019, global carbon dioxide emissions reached an all-time high, with around 43.1 billion tons of CO2 from human activities emitted into the atmosphere.
(The World Counts)
These numbers broke the record from 2018. Furthermore, the global emissions of carbon dioxide have increased constantly since 1800. Although from 2014 to 2016, these emissions were mainly unchanged, they started to rise again in 2017.
13. In 2021, global CO2 emissions were projected to rise by 4.9%.
Although in 2020, a Covid-related dip of 5.4% represented a grain of hope that the global carbon dioxide emissions could finally start to drop, the numbers have rebounded the following year.
In 2020, the Global Carbon Project projected that fossil emissions in 2021 would reach 36.4bn tonnes of CO2, only 0.8% below their pre-pandemic high of 36.7GtCO2 in 2019.
The leap would be second only to the massive rebound 10 years ago after the financial crisis and only a massive turnaround will prevent climate hopes from being put out of reach.
14. The atmospheric CO2 concentration will be between 540 and 970 ppm (parts per million) by 2100.
In the pre-industrial era, the concentration was 280 ppm, while in 2000, it was 368 ppm. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1750, nitrogen oxide increased by 17%, methane by 150%, and atmospheric CO2 increased by 31%.
15. Between 2007 and 2035, energy use will increase by 49%.
If main nations remain connected to existing energy policies, global CO2 emissions will increase by 43% by 2035, while oil prices will hover around $133 a barrel.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, by 2035, energy consumption will increase 84% in countries that do not sit inside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, dominated by China, India, Russia, and parts of the Middle East.
16. In 2021, CO2 emissions increased by an estimated 6% in the US.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions, in 2020, the emissions decreased by 11%. According to research, although in 2022 and 2023, US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions will increase, they will still remain below 2019 levels.
As increasing economic activity is predicted, those emissions will be rising by another 2% in 2022 and remain virtually flat in 2023. In fact, by 2023, US energy-related CO2 emissions will total 4,971 million metric tons.
17. Accounting for 30.64% of global emissions, China was the biggest fossil fuel CO2 emissions emitter in 2020.
Fossil fuels are the primary source of CO2 emissions in China, especially those burning coal. About 58% of the total energy generated by China in 2019 came solely from coal.
China is one of the largest oil importers in the world, and its extensive use of motor vehicles has contributed to carbon dioxide emissions.
China and the other four largest polluters were responsible for around 60% of global CO2 emissions in 2020.
18. In 2018, almost 8% of China’s total CO2 emissions came from cement production.
Steel and cement production, required for infrastructure, produce considerable amounts of C02. What’s more, half of the world’s steel is manufactured in China.
19. Only 25 out of 167 globally distributed cities produce 52% of the greenhouse gas emissions, as per a study from 2021.
Although cities cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface, they are major contributors to the climate crisis. Besides, more than 50% of the global population resides in cities, while those cities are declared to be accountable for more than 70% of GHG emissions.
According to a report from 2020, by the end of the 21st century, we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3°C, provided we don’t perform drastic and strict actions to mitigate the climate crisis.
20. At 37 metric tons per person, Qatar has the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions
When compared to African countries, many countries in the Middle East had high emissions levels. Besides Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are among the world’s largest CO2 emitters per capita.
Surprisingly, Canada is now among the largest producers of CO2 emissions worldwide, as its CO2 emissions have recently surpassed 500 million metric tons, despite a relatively low population for its size.
21. Resting at 0, the lowest carbon footprint on the planet is recorded in Tuvalu.
This microstate in Polynesia sustains only 12,000 people, but they rely heavily on solar and wind power, which furthers their progress as a carbon-neutral country.
Besides, their lack of industry makes zero emissions an achievable goal to reach again. Moreover, they plan to persist in this trend by completely doing away with fossil fuels.
22. Bhutan is another country with plans to reach 0 net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Another notable goal this country boasts is to produce zero waste. Over 70% of the land is covered in trees, which has seen Bhutan becoming a carbon sink. This means that the country actually absorbs more carbon dioxide than it produces. Bhutan also exports most of the renewable hydroelectric power from its rivers.
More Numbers Regarding Carbon Footprint
Which celebrities are labeled as super emitters? What should we do to stop global warming? These are just some of the questions we give answers to in the following section.
23. On average, Americans produce 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year
The average American’s carbon footprint is about 20 metric tons per year. That’s much more than most other countries in the world and much more than the world average of four tons.
While these numbers may sound dismal, they don’t have to be permanent.
You can take a “carbon bath” by reducing your emissions and offsetting the rest with investment in environmental projects with the goal of reaching “net zero.” This is called carbon footprint mitigation or climate action.
The most effective actions we can take to reduce our carbon footprints are:
- Eat less meat.
- Drive less. This is one of the easiest ways to reduce your emissions. If you live close to work, try carpooling or taking public transportation instead of driving alone. You can also try using a bike or walking when possible.
- Use less energy at home. Insulate your home well and install double glazing to keep warm air in and cold drafts out.
- Use energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs, and turn off lights, computers, and other electronics when not in use.
- Cut down on heating by wearing extra layers around the house or using a blanket instead of turning up the thermostat.
- Travel less. If you have to fly somewhere, offset emissions by planting trees or making donations to environmental organizations that plant trees on your behalf.
24. By 2050, we would need to strive to get the average carbon footprint under 2 to avoid global warming.
Although both America and the rest of the world should aim to lower their numbers, the carbon footprint of the average American appears to rise each year, likely owed to an increase in consumerism, demand for transport, meat, and population.
25. If the world wants to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees, it needs to cut emissions by 45%.
Although we were off to a good start in 2020, when emissions plunged by a record 7% globally due to the pandemic restrictions, emissions are on a rising path.
The following decade is the one when the world changes course before the level of carbon in the atmosphere rises too high to avoid dangerous heating levels.
26. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere went up by 50% from before the industrial revolution to 2020.
(The World Counts)
This means that due to CO2 emissions from human activities, the concentration of carbon dioxide went up from around 275 parts per million to over 410 parts per million in the mentioned period.
The UN claims that greenhouse gas concentrations rise far too quickly to limit global warming to 1.5 C.
27. One way to reduce carbon footprint is to cover 80% of roof area on commercial buildings in the US with solar reflective material.
(Center for Sustainable Systems)
By doing this, the US would conserve energy and offset 125 million metric tons of CO2 over the structures’ lifetime, equivalent to turning off 32 coal power plants for a year.
Moreover, smaller houses use less energy, while unplugging electronic devices when not in use would save considerable energy as well, since devices in standby mode account for 5-10% of residential energy use, adding up to $100 per year for the average American household.
28. Around 8% of the global carbon emissions come from tourism.
(Sustainable Travel International)
Nowadays, transportation is tourism’s main source of greenhouse gas emissions. On average, planes and cars have the highest per-mile carbon dioxide emissions, with tour buses, ferries, and trains emitting far less.
However, numerous other activities contribute to tourism’s carbon footprint, from plane flights to buying souvenirs, various fun activities, and food imports and waste.
29. In 2017, Bill Gates took 59 flights, producing 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Speaking of transportation, the researchers have labeled numerous celebrities as super-emitters over their harmful carbon footprints. To put it in perspective, the leader on the list, Bill Gates, produced 160x more CO2 in 2017 than an average person produces yearly.
Besides Gates, the list contains names like Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton, and Emma Watson.
How do you explain carbon footprint to a child?
To define the term more easily, we can say that your carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere because of one’s own energy needs.
Moreover, your carbon footprint increases due to a choice of your food, the use of electricity, gas heating, transportation, agriculture, energy production, as well as due to the industrial sector.
How does carbon footprint affect the environment?
Greenhouse gasses emission is the main offender that causes global warming. Global warming alters our planet by forcing severe weather events like tropical storms, wildfires, extreme droughts, and heatwaves, which affect crop production, disrupt animals’ natural habitats, and more.
How can students reduce their carbon footprint?
As per a study, the emission of greenhouse gasses from schools stands at 9.4 metric tonnes yearly. Some actions need to be taken to reduce these carbon footprints to half.
These include using less paper and then recycling it, running a more eco-friendly school system, educating students to be more conscious about planet Earth, encouraging walking and cycling instead of driving, switching off the computers, and reducing energy waste.
It’s been an educational and eye-opening journey, hasn’t it?
So, what are your next steps?
One thing you can do immediately hit the ground running with some of the most impactful changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint.
As we have seen from these carbon footprint statistics, a key greenhouse gas that drives global climate change, carbon dioxide, keeps rising every year. This is why we hope these stats and facts should be enough to make us open our eyes and start acting more conscientiously.
We’ve learned a lot about our impact on the environment and how we can be better stewards of the earth. We hope you’ll share these statistics with your friends and family to help them understand how they can be better global citizens as well.
We’re so excited you’re taking this seriously! Thanks for reading, and as always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments.
- Center for Sustainable Systems
- Energy Education
- Global Footprint Network
- Green Matters
- IHS Markit
- Impactful Ninja
- Project Solar UK
- Scientific American
- Sustainable Travel International
- The Guardian
- The World Counts